NAS Whidbey Island, WA, USA (KNUW) - A-3 Skywarrior Delivery, 29 April 2011

The US Navy operated the A-3 Skywarrior for 35 years between 1956 and 1991, but the type has actually been operated for a longer period of time in private sector hands. Hughes Aeronautical Operations, which would later become Raytheon Flight Test Operations, operated the "Whale" from 1963 until very recently, an impressive 48 years.

The Raytheon fleet of Skywarriors has been used for radar development for a number of years aircraft types including, but not limited to, F-111 Aardvark, F-14 Tomcat and F-15 Eagle in addition to other research and development programs for the military. The last set of missions for this aircraft was with the AIM-120 AMRAAM missile program.

The time is now up for these resilient platforms and NRA-3B airframe Bu144825 (N868RS) was flown from Point Mugu, CA to NAS Whidbey Island, WA on 29th April 2011 on its final flight to be preserved just outside the base, which will allow the aircraft to be viewed by the general public. Whidbey Island has a historical connection to the A-3 as this was the first jet to be based there, and it was also the first station to receive them. This aircraft has low hours at only 5500 as when it operated with the Navy it was assigned to Point Mugu as a test bird (Snoopy) and was never trapped on a carrier.

Although this aircraft was based at Van Nuys it flew from Point Mugu for a Functional Check Flight as the runway there is longer and it also allowed them to uplift more fuel for this final flight.

The A-3 Skywarrior Memorial Foundation was instrumental in securing this aircraft via the National Museum of Naval Aviation (Pensacola) and the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) as the aircraft, although operated by Raytheon are still actually owned by the Navy and operated under a bailout agreement.

At 13:34 local time the Whale performed a close-in pass over the gathered guests and on-looking Navy personnel before returning for a run-and-break on far runway 14 at NAS Whidbey Island, deploying its brake parachute on landing. The old girl was also treated to the traditional water arch from fire tenders before taxiing and shutting down for its final time in front of the crowd.

After the pilots alighted there was a moment of standoff while the seasoned A-3 veterans looked on before they were motioned by the crew to approach the aircraft and take a look. Nobody needed a second invitation and it was off to the races as ex-aircrew and ground-crew pawed over their old flame and inundated the ferry crew with stories and questions.

At the controls for this final flight had been Ron Woltman and Greg Bass. Ron has been flying A-3s for a very long time starting with the Navy in 1971 and only had a one-year break between flying them in the military and their subsequent civilian guise to the present date. Greg is an ex-Marine F/A-18 pilot.

Since this flight, the final two airworthy examples in Raytheon hands have completed their final sorties. NTA-3B 144867 was ferried to NAS North Island on 28 June for final transportation to the Pacific Aviation Museum in Hawaii, which will most likely be by sea. Two days later, on 30 June, EA-3B 144865 was flown to NAS Pensacola to join the Naval Aviation Museum, with these two flights drawing down the curtain on the A-3 after an illustrious operational and developmental career.

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[photo/serial list]